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The moment of silence has always been for me the most centering and powerful part of any memorial service I have attended. More than a speech, more even than music, it is that silent minute that brings our witness so clearly into focus. It is not that we are left to rattle our own thoughts around in our heads – after all that is just another kind of noise. Silence gets its power from what we don’t hear. It cues our brains that something has happened, or that something is happening.

As parents, we joke that when we can’t hear our kids in the playroom we know they are up to something. Think of how many times you have glanced up at from your screen or whatever you were doing because it suddenly went silent; clever advertisers know the power of 30 seconds without noise. When we stand at a grave or a monument, silence marks the voices we can’t hear anymore. Silence is final, and yet, in another way, infinite. It is elegant; it is the contrast to our banging, blaring, roaring days.

Amid the quiet contemplation of Lent, Palm Sunday is one of those banging, blaring days. It’s the crowd that gets all the attention. The entire scene is noisy; the people parading through the street, laying down their palms in the dust, chanting their hosannas. This was a party: the answer to their prayers was coming to town – they expected Jesus to topple the Roman power and make their earthly plight better. They were going to make a joyful noise. Suddenly they had reason to celebrate – and who could blame them? Life was tough, and they were honouring Jesus in the way they could.

But in the middle of that celebration, there is Jesus, riding humbly, as the gospel tells us, on a donkey. We hear nothing from him. We don’t imagine him working the crowd, firing them up with some rousing speech – indeed, it is often understood from the gospel that he never wanted this spectacle in the first place, that the disciples were behind it. Jesus slips through the parade, separate but surrounded by the crowd; in one way, he seems almost secondary to the celebration itself. He is the silence to their noise, the quiet to their rabble. Even if we didn’t know what was coming, even if we didn’t know how quickly the festive mob turns ugly, this silent Jesus is our cue that something is happening.

But that’s the thing about Jesus: he is often quiet when we would like him to be loud, when we would like him to use some of the power of God against his enemies, and against ours. But Jesus teaches us that there must be a balance between when and why we make noise, and when we respond with silence – in whatever struggle we find ourselves facing, at home or in the world. Noise and silence; in one way, that is the story of Palm Sunday – and of Holy Week - boiled down to its essence. The noise rings in our ears. But the silence is more powerful.

Throughout the gospel, as we have explored this Lent, we hear of Jesus’s responding to all manner of injustice, sometimes by being forceful, but more often by treading lightly. Shout too much, and even if your cause is just, you’ll begin to sound shrill. Keep silent for too long and your cause is dead. When you consider the ministry of Jesus, as recorded for us, it is remarkable how clever he was at walking that line.

When the merchants had turned the temple into a mall, where they could prey on the poor, Jesus made noise: he shook the walls with his shouts and crashed tables to the ground. He needed to be heard over the everyday din of the shopping and haggling; he wanted to stop people in their tracks.

But when he stepped up to stop the stoning of the woman who was accused of adultery, he did so quietly: “Let those without sin cast the first stone,” he said softly. He did not throw stones back at the men who had gathered, who had worked themselves into a frenzy; he did not try to intimidate them with a tongue-lashing. With a quiet word, he forced them to consider their deeds, and their motives; he stared them down with silence. And in fact, that’s how we are now advised to react should we ever encounter a domestic dispute: since interjecting more forcefully often inflames the situation, staring in silence forces the attacker hopefully to amend his own behaviour, knowing he has an audience.

But silence, especially when we feel wronged personally, is often the hardest response. We do it all the time: we refuse to back down in an argument, we rail on to our friends and coworkers when some driver cuts us off on the way to work. We are usually the most determined to make noise for our own cause; we shout that much harder when we have a personal stake. The noise we make on behalf of strangers lacks the same passion. You have only to look back to that Palm Sunday crowd; all fun and frivolity when they thought they had it made with Jesus. But when Jesus was handed over, and the mob had turned against him, where were his fans then? They were mute.

Think about it: when did Jesus ever make noise for his own sake? I can think of only one time. On most every occasion, when he spoke up, it was for others, and for us. Certainly, he does not come to his own defense, when confronted by Pontius Pilate, who is clearly unsettled by his silence; you get the feeling that if Jesus had fought back and tried to establish his identity, that Pilate would have had an easier time making the call to crucify him. Jesus remains silent bearing the weight of the cross and holds to that silence, later when one of the criminals hanging at his side, jeers at him to prove his power by saving himself. His one cry, for himself, is a prayer to God, a plea to feel God’s presence, and even that, only after enduring hours of agony.

Noise and Silence: as people of God, we must take care to find the balance between these two actions, thoughtfully to consider, as Jesus did, when one should give way to the other. We weaken God’s mission when we are silent in the act of injustice; but silence, as Jesus proved, is not always weak. It can make people see their own wrongs; just as silencing ourselves can make us see our own mistakes. And more than that, following the example of Jesus who stole moments alone to pray, silence makes room for the voice of God to be heard – especially when we are too distracted by noisiness to realize God is speaking.

After all, we are about to rejoice in God’s most powerful act – his response to the careless noise of Palm Sunday, and the angry noise of Good Friday - God’s response to all the shouting that frustrates our own lives. Is God’s answer more noise? No, God responds with the deepest silence of all, and gives us the gift of Joy: the silence of the empty tomb discovered by Mary on that third day.

But let’s get back to that crowd – who had every reason to celebrate – just as we do this Palm Sunday. Jesus’s riding on the donkey cautions us to notice the silent people among us, for whom few make noise. He teaches us that there is power when we are still, and listening for God. Noise and silence; celebration and contemplation. Let us wave the palms but focus our thoughts this week on the silent figure riding the donkey. Amen

The miracle we hear in our gospel this morning is perhaps the most famous performed by Jesus. Certainly, Lazarus, is the most famous recipient of a miracle – he is given not only a name, but also a loving family, a friendship with Jesus, who risks his own safety to come and help.

One aspect of the story that always strikes me is how calm Jesus is when confronted with the news of Lazarus. Jesus never loses hope. All around him, people are panicking. They have already given up. They are angry Jesus came too late. They have decided nothing will work. But Jesus, in the face of that whirlwind, is calm. And from that state of calm and resolute hope, he raises Lazarus to life again.

When these kinds of miracles happen in the gospel, our scientific age is prone to skepticism. But science, in fact, has its own Lazarus syndrome – people whose hearts stop, who appear dead, for long, impossible minutes, and yet come back to life. Many years ago, there were controversial cases of resignation syndrome – or what in Sweden, they called “uppgivenhetssyndrom.” A small group of refugee children had taken to their beds, fallen asleep and would not wake up. The children had lived most of their lives in Sweden, but their families were facing deportation. In one case, the child was checked by doctors and given a feeding tube, but did not move. The doctors diagnosed that this was a case of hopelessness. For, who indeed, can live without hope?

Whatever condition ails Lazarus is equally perplexing. At first, it’s suggested that the illness that Lazarus suffers from does not typically cause death. Then we understand that Lazarus has died, and Jesus announces his intention to wake him. He travels to the tomb where Lazarus has been lying for four days now. The stone is rolled back. “Lazarus, come out,” Jesus calls. And Lazarus comes out, bound as one prepared for burial. It is surely a foreshadowing of another tomb to come, where there will be a rising from the dead. Perhaps it is also meant to inform our perception of the resurrection for us as individuals. (When Jesus says, Come out, come on, come see, come be at peace – do we listen?)

But as I always like to say, the details make for a good story, but they are not the substance of the tale. When we accept that Lazarus was sleeping, given up for dead and raised back to life by Jesus – however that happened – what else do we see? When we step back, and watch the story unfold, what do we learn?

We see all the places where hope is lost. The disciples don’t want Jesus to go to help his friend – it is too dangerous – they have no hope for his safety. Mary and Martha have lost hope that the brother can be saved. Mary, in fact, doesn’t even come out to meet Jesus. And Martha, when she does, is angry that he is so late.

(Just to pause here: another aspect of this story that is so remarkable is the clear friendship these people have with one another. Mary and Martha address Jesus almost as equals. They don’t question that Jesus will come to help their brother. Jesus answers their questions and comforts them. It is a particularly personal scene in the gospel.

And what does it reveal? That Jesus was also someone who would risk, on a personal level, for those he cared about. He wasn’t just preaching to a big, wide flock. He was also a friend himself who worried about people special to him. I mention this because we can always imagine Jesus at the right hand of God, or Jesus the rabbi, Jesus the teacher, even Jesus the maker of miracles. It’s often just a sidebar that Jesus was also a son, a brother to others, a dear and trusted friend. But of course, in between all these gospel scenes was the life he lived, and the people he cared about along the way. (If we think also of Jesus this way, does he not become fuller and clearer to us?)

It may be Jesus, the son of God, who calls Lazarus back to life. But what does Jesus, the friend and brother, accomplish? Where there is no hope, he brings it. To the disciples, he eases them: there is room in a day for good deeds to happen, even more than bad.

“Are there not twelve hours of daylight?” he says, as if to remind them - 12 hours! What can’t we do in 12 hours! “Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble because the light is not in them.” Walk with hope in the day, and you will not stumble.

To grieving Martha, he offers comfort. I am here now, he tells her. It is not too late. In other words, he tells her: I have not given up on Lazarus. Lean on my hope until yours is restored.

What are we without hope? Without knowing that, whatever comes next, we will manage, we will be loved, we will be cared for? What happens to us if we stop believing that God walks with us? Or if we start believing that there is nothing to hold on to? Hope is the breath of life. And Jesus offers it to Mary and Martha with his first words of comfort. And then in two very specific ways – in the immediate, he resurrects Lazarus from the tomb, and in the long-term, he promises the resurrection at the end of our days. We need both of those to live on: the hope that we can carry forth in this day, and this moment, whatever pain we might be feeling, whatever trial we are facing. This lies behind so many of the life lessons from Jesus - to set aside our own troubles and serve others – for in doing so our own trouble is diminished. The lessons that tell us to forgive, so that we might have resilience in relationships. The lessons that tell us to love, so that we might have the healing medicine of joy. But Jesus also offers us hope now, and in the distant future – the hope of the resurrection – the hope that in the end, we matter, our lives matter, and that the journey along the way is worth the weight we carry. That is what Jesus tells Martha and Mary – he raises Lazarus from the tomb on that fourth day, but he promises Lazarus life at the end of days.

What healed those strange cases of sleeping children? – hope. What feeling would have kept the families praying over their seemingly lost loved ones going – hope. What did Jesus give to Martha and Mary – and Lazarus himself? Hope.

There are times when we all feel bereft of hope. What Jesus offers is not a perfect hope, or a golden hope, or a hope that is easy. Jesus offers real hope, that when we arrive at the end of our days, we will know God, who deems our lives worthy. To watch where we step, and to look ahead where our steps lead, this is the action of hope. Knowing that Jesus is there – our teacher, yes, but also our friend - not just to resurrect us at the end of days, but to lift us up each and every day. Amen

Many years ago, I read about a man named Pierre-Paul Thomas. His incredible story comes back to me every time I hear our gospel for this morning. Maybe that comes from my having only one good eye. More likely, it is a reminder to be honest with myself about all the times that I don’t see the world, and my place in it, with clarity. All the times I fail to see where God is leading me.

Pierre-Paul Thomas was born blind – indeed he was a lot like the blind man in our gospel story this morning.

He grew up in a family of nine brothers and sisters in a small town about 100 kilometres north of Montreal, in the 1940s. Mr. Thomas learned to see with his fingers. He repaired bikes, and worked in a bakery, kneading dough. But he lived in a grey world of shadows, walking with a white cane.

And then, a miracle. Though at first it didn’t seem that way. In 2011, when he was 66, Mr. Thomas fell down a flight of stairs, and fractured the bones of his face, including those around his eye sockets. In emergency. the doctors mended him as best they could. But a month later, he was in the office of Lucie Lessard, a well-respected plastic surgeon, who performed the next surgery. He still recalls her nonchalant question: “While we’re at it, do you want me to fix your eyes, too?”

It seems that all these years Mr. Thomas had suffered from a blindness that could have been fixed with an operation, but he had grown up before public health care, another side note to this tale. Dr. Lessard did her work – just as Jesus in the gospel did his - and Mr. Thomas emerged into a world he had never before experienced. His eyesight would never be perfect, but he could see so much more. Colours and clear shapes. The faces of his family.

One thing he noticed so clearly: nobody had ever described to him the little green buds that grow on the trees in the spring.

Can we even imagine that? Having been blind all our life and then suddenly being able to see? How must it have been for that man in the gospel, who so faithfully followed the directions of Jesus, who covered the man’s eye with mud mixed with saliva and then told him to wash in a pool of water. Still the man listened, whether it was because he believed or because he would have tried anything if it meant he might see. We do know, from our text, that he refused to be swayed from telling the truth of what had happened. Though berated by the Pharisees, he refused to be cowed into giving up the truth. For that, for seeing with his own eyes, he was driven out of the temple, a terrible punishment in that day. It was not as if you could wander down the street to another temple.

When Jesus says, “I have come to make the blind see and those who see blind,” the Pharisees believe in him enough to be worried. “Surely, you’re not saying we are blind?” And Jesus chastises them: for their failing is thinking that they see clearly, and not realizing that they are blind.

For how often do we hear this phrase: ‘Open your eyes!’? We use it to describe a naive person who is being taken in by someone else, or to expose the way we might see another person being manipulated, or when a lie is being too easily believed. But how often do we say it to ourselves? How often do we go to God and ask him, “Open my eyes, so that I may see clearly”? We may not, because we might be worried about what seeing too clearly inside ourselves will reveal – we prefer blindness to what is experienced by others.

But here is the thing about Mr. Thomas: he was extremely grateful for his gift of sight and the world he was now a part of. But even two years later, he was having a hard time shaking old habits, still feeling along the wall when he walked. It was hard to change, even when he could see clearly.

And that’s also a metaphor for us. In our blinded state, we fall into habits, we slip into old ways of being. We use certain fixed words to describe ourselves, and ones that pin down others as well. Words like selfish, critical, dishonest. We assume that how we see the world is the way it is, and the way it will be, or the way it has to be.

But Jesus calls us to open our eyes and look deeply at our lives. To see clearly how we are in relationship with others. See the places where we have made a colourful life grey, or allowed shadows where they don’t need to be. It begins with a simple request: God, help me see clearly. With God, we may open our eyes and see ourselves clearly: where a failure to forgive is twisting our insides, where anger is really jealousy, where judgment is really self-criticism. In those moments of eye-openness, when we are honest with ourselves first, we come to see more clearly the way that God intends us to see.

We cannot see the little green buds on the trees – the new beginning of each day, and each relationship – if our eyes remain closed. Amen.

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